It's hard being a teenager. You experience emotions on an intense level, and those feelings are not easy to control. The simplest things feel like matters of life and death. Just imagine what it must feel like when teenagers are confronted by something that could quite literally end their world...
In the ongoing Marvel Comics series "Avengers Academy" by writer Christos Gage and artist Mike McKone, six superpowered teenagers are being taught how to handle just that situation. Naturally, they're not having an easy time of it.
Finesse, Striker, Mettle, Hazmat, Reptil and Veil believed they were invited to train at the Infinite Avengers Mansion because they were destined to become great heroes. In issue #1 of "Avengers Academy," they discovered that wasn't the truth at all. The Avengers invited the six superpowered teens to the Mansion so they could keep an eye on them, because when he was director of National Security, Norman Osborn had the kids tortured and tutored, and the Avengers believe the psychological scarring could turn the kids into some of the most powerful and dangerous villains the Marvel Universe will ever know. Elder heroes The Wasp, Tigra, Justice, Quicksilver, and Speedball are unaware their young charges know the truth, and are trying their best to steer the kids onto the correct path. But the grown-ups have issues of their own. In the coming months, the teachers and students of "Avengers Academy" will have to confront these matters head on.
CBR News spoke with writer Christos Gage about his plans for the next several issues of "Avengers Academy," plans that include Hank Pym once again assuming the identity of Giant- Man.
CBR: Christos, let's kick things off by talking a little bit about your main cast of characters and the bombshell you dropped recently. In the letter column of issue #3, you revealed that at least one of the students of "Avengers Academy" is going to become a villain. How far out do you have this series planned? Can we expect this villainous turn to happen soon? Further on down the line? Or when we least expect it?
CHRISTOS GAGE: I have a pretty good idea of where I'm going, but I'm giving myself flexibility in terms of how and when to get there. To me, the premise of this book is that you have a group of young superhumans who are at a crossroads in life. Depending on the choices they make, they could become heroes or villains, and the tension comes from the fact that they're at serious risk of going the villainous route. Given that, I think it would be a cop-out for all of them to ultimately choose the heroic path. Hence my promise that at least one of them is going to go bad. As for when, I'd go with "when you least expect it!"
For the first six issues of "Avengers Academy," you're spotlighting a different trainee in each issue. We've only really gotten to know three characters so far, and of those three three, the character that seems like they're most destined for villainy is the polymath known as Finesse. We've certainly seen how manipulative and cunning she is. Have we seen all the facets of her personality? Is there some good in Finesse right now? And if not, do you think she's capable of learning how to be good? Or is that one skill that's going to prove hard for her to master?
Finesse is interesting to me because I don't think she's good or evil, per se. Right now she's more amoral. She's someone who craves information, all she can get, and that's what led her to blackmail Quicksilver into teaching her the lessons Magneto taught him as a boy in the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. She's also eagerly absorbing the lessons of how to be a hero that Hank Pym and the others are teaching her. She's stockpiling information and skills. What she ultimately does with them is the big question. But there is something ominous about her, isn't there? When Mike McKone designed her, he described her as "evil Audrey Hepburn," which I absolutely love.
Issue #3 spotlighted another character who seems to already have one foot on the path to villainy, and that's the toxic emitting Hazmat, who has to wear a special suit to protect those around her. It seems like all that's keeping her going right now is her anger at what Norman Osborn did to her. Or is there something else more noble that might be motivating her as well?
Hazmat has lost everything that made her life worth living. In large part because of Norman Osborn, she's trapped in a suit that protects others from her radioactivity and the other deadly substances her body creates, so she is literally separated from the world. Her anger is certainly understandable, at least to me. What's keeping her going is the hope that someday she might find a way out of her suit, a way to remove or control her powers. But she is a very angry and bitter person, and if she gives into hopelessness and despair she could become one of the more dangerous people in the Marvel Universe. Conversely, if she fights through her anger and grief and finds something to live for, she could be one of its greatest heroes.
We don't know much about the super strong and metallic character Mettle, but based on his dialogue and the amazingly detailed facial expressions that Mike McKone draws, it seems like he's a lonely guy and is desperate to connect with people. Or is there more going on beneath the surface with Mettle than what we've seen and heard?
Yes. You'll learn more about Mettle in issue #4. But I'm glad you pointed out Mike's amazing character design and the brilliant way he gives a guy with no face to speak of such emotional depth. That's just one of the many reasons I feel so lucky to have Mike as my co-creator of the book and partner in crime!
Now let's talk a little bit about the faculty of "Avengers Academy." It seems like Speedball is not as mentally healed as he's claiming to be. In issue #3 it looked like he's still cutting himself?
Speedball has made a lot of positive changes in his life but he still definitely has issues. He's learning that you can't change what you've experienced just by changing clothes. He's trying, but it's hard. Tied into that is the fact that his Penance powers - his kinetic energy blasts, which are more effective as a weapon than his Speedball powers - are activated by pain. So he doesn't feel he can just leave Penance behind, or some of the things that came with being Penance. To me, Speedball is one of the more interesting characters. He's on a difficult journey, and it'll be interesting to see how he faces the challenges involved.
As you mentioned, Finesses blackmailed Quicksilver into agreeing to teach her some of the lessons his father Magneto taught him as a member of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. Why is Quicksilver allowing Finesse to blackmail him? Why doesn't he come clean to his fellow instructors? Or use his powers to launch a surprise attack on her? Is there something in him that's actually interested in and excited by the chance to teach the lessons his father taught him?
Now that's an interesting question. We'll be exploring the Quicksilver/Finesse relationship in upcoming issues, so I don't want to say too much, but you seem to be picking up on things I've definitely considered. There's also the fact that it's not so easy for him to trump her as you might think. Attacking her physically will do no good, unless he plans to kill her, and he's not that guy; not yet, anyway. And if he comes clean about her, she'd tell the world he was never replaced by a Skrull - it was actually him who made those horrible mistakes - and he'd be as hated as his father. I love the dynamic between them and we'll definitely be seeing more of it.
Currently, the cast of "Avengers Academy" is on a field trip gone wrong to the Vault, in the three-part crossover with "Thunderbolts" called "Scared Straight." What can readers expect from "Avengers Academy" #4, which is in stores September 22 and the final chapter of the story?
[This story's] about three of the kids coming face to face with Norman Osborn, the man who tortured them and in many ways made them what they are. It's about what they'll do to get revenge versus what they'll do to cling to the hope of being normal. And it's about what the consequences will be for a very serious act they've committed.
From the solicits it sounds like "Avengers Academy" #5 is going to have some personal moments for Hank Pym in that the Whirlwind attacks Avengers Academy because he blames Pym for the death of Janet Van Dyne. And recently it was revealed that Pym would abandon his current Wasp identity and become Giant-Man again. Are these two things a coincidence?
They're related. I don't want to say more so as to avoid spoilers, but Hank will soon be rethinking his approach to Janet's legacy, as well as his own.
What can you tell us about your reasons for turning Pym back into Giant-Man? It seems like he just assumed the identity of the Wasp, and it seemed like since he assumed the identity as a way of honoring Janet Van Dyne, that it would last for awhile.
Hitting your last point first, issue #7 explores Hank's feelings about Janet, himself and his costumed identity (as well as a massive fight between Giant-Man and the Absorbing Man!). So I don't want to give the in-story reasons away. But as for my external reasons for making him Giant-Man again, well, it just seemed right. I'd been thinking a lot about Hank. He's a founding Avenger, a classic Silver Age Marvel character, and I thought about when he works best. And I realized that whenever you see a version of the Avengers from a parallel world, or the future, or another dimension, the creators - no matter who they are - make him Giant-Man. Not any of his other identities. Giant-Man.
He's Giant-Man in the upcoming cartoon. That seems to be the role in which people respond to him the most, from a visceral, "that's so cool!" standpoint. I know that's true for me, and it seems to be true for most others as well. So I decided to go back to what I think is his purest form as a character. A guy who grows giant. It's simple, its awesome, and it works. Of course, there's a complex character wrapped up in all that, but when you get right down to it I felt like Hank becoming Giant-Man fit with the "Heroic Age" ideal of the Avengers getting back to their best; what made them great.
What else can you tell us about the plot and themes of "Avengers Academy" #5-6? Whose perspectives are these issues told from?
Issue #5, which is guest penciled by my old "Initiative" collaborator, the brilliant Jorge Molina, focuses on Striker as we see things from the point of view of the first Avenger trainee whose primary motivation is fame. He's a product of the reality TV era, but also of a very troubled childhood, as we'll see. That issue also features a cameo by Ultragirl, Justice's girlfriend, and the aforementioned attack by Whirlwind.
Issue #6 is told from the perspective of Reptil. When he's elected class leader of Avengers Academy, it should be a dream come true, but in many ways it's a nightmare. We get more on the Finesse/Quicksilver dynamic, the villainy of Mentallo, and a totally gratuitous Devil Dinosaur cameo appearance.
With the instructors and students of "Avengers Academy," you're able to explore the legacy of the Avengers, but the faculty also includes two founding members of the New Warriors. On top of that, you have a cast of young heroes. Many readers have said the book has a "New Warriors" feel to it. Are you interested at all in exploring the legacy and current status quo of the New Warriors in "Avengers Academy?"
Definitely. Justice and Speedball were once the "heroes of tomorrow," but now they're training the next generation. They've been through a lot of things, both triumphant and tragic. But they're still young themselves, still figuring out who they are and who they want to be. It's a fascinating dynamic. As for the other New Warriors, I love those characters, but aside from the aforementioned Ultragirl appearance, it'll be tough to get them in there without the book getting too crowded. But I intend to try. I'm definitely flattered when people compare "Avengers Academy" to "New Warriors" because I was a huge fan of that book!
Any final thoughts you would like share about "Avengers Academy"
I want to thank the readers and retailers for the wonderfully enthusiastic reception they've given our book, and for making the first two issues sellouts! But in this market, every sale is a badly needed one, so if you like this book and want it to continue, please recommend it to your friends, pre-order with your retailer and continue to pick us up monthly. And we have a letters page. That's right, we're old school. So please write in and tell us what you think!